Family of bicyclist files wrongful death lawsuit Portola Valley, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Dec 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm
The family of a woman fatally struck by a big-rig while riding her bicycle in unincorporated Portola Valley last month has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court against the driver and the trucking company he works for.
● Earlier story: [Web LinkCHP finds cyclist at fault in Alpine Road fatal accident ]
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 12:03 PM
Posted by commuter, a resident of another community, on Dec 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm
Police reports always favor the car driver, unless there is proof of DUI. Why did the CHP not release their full report including the witness statements? Hopefully, this lawsuit will bring the investigation into the open so we can understand what really happened.
I still cannot believe that the bicyclist tried to pass and then cut off a truck going uphill. That is the only reason that the bicyclist could be at fault in this crash.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm
it's really too bad you don't know what you're talking about. Do you spend a lot of time reading auto/bicycle accident reports? As I recall, there were no witnesses. There is nothing to "bring out into the open." We will probably never know exactly what happened. The dead person's family will get a nice settlement from the insurance company though. Cheaper to pay them off than to go to trial.
Posted by L, a resident of the Portola Valley: Ladera neighborhood, on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm
1) It's a 26-wheeler not an 18-wheeler. How could you miss that basic fact, dear journalist?
2) Per news articles I've seen, the driver is the only 'witness.' At least non have come forward. Yet.
3) That part of Alpine is straight and flat. It is not windy, curvy, or sloped. Not at all. Having ridden that stretch of the road many times myself, it seems most likely that the 26-wheel truck pulled a bit left to get a straighter line for his very big rig to get onto the freeway onramp, and took out Ms. Ward in the process.
4) Any driver involved in three fatalaties probably should get a desk job. Here's hoping.
Posted by Harry, a resident of the Portola Valley: Ladera neighborhood, on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm
This is not an abuse of legal process. It's fair and may protect bikers from future farm. Please supply contact information for the driver's employer. I'd like to advocate getting him out from behind the wheel!
Posted by Sam, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm
Some poor postings. Professional drives have a statistically exponentially higher probability of being involved in collisions. Many drivers who are not at fault become victims of others exercising poor judgement. How CRASS it is to pass judgement when our country is based upon the premise of being innocent until PROVEN guilty. Between the lines, the driver is being executed with out trial due to his race. Only the attorneys will profit. Hope is an emotion. FACTS are sometime unavailable, as tragic as this is for all involved.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm
L says "4) Any driver involved in three fatalaties probably should get a desk job. Here's hoping"
In the first the driver was a victim of a woman who crossed the center divider and crashed head on against him. But what standard of reasoning, fairness and plain inference do you conclude he was at fault? How could he have been at fault ? Answer me if you half honest.
The second accident was deemed not to have been his fault. There were cameras. There was no case against him at all. So why are you persisting in calling for the crucifixion of the driver? What measure of fairness do you employ?
Posted by Need to Know, a resident of the Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres neighborhood, on Dec 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm
@ Pedestrian in traffic:
I've been following your posts, and you seem to be the pot calling the kettle black.
I've posted a link at the bottom to a very interesting article regarding the odds of a truck driver killing two bicyclists, and the article INCLUDES the calculations AND uses models that err on the side of the truck driver saying that the event of one driver killing 2 bicyclists is not strange enough to be statistically significant. NO BIAS just math. Here is the ending paragraph of the article courtesy of www.gasstationwithoutpumps/wordpress.com:
"With 3.5 million truck drivers around, we would expect to find about 28 double-bicyclist-death truck drivers by chance in 60 years.
With both models, using overestimates of how likely bicyclists are to be killed by chance, we get an expected number of chance double-death truck drivers of between 1 such driver every 2 years in the country and one every 8 years. This means that we canít completely reject the null model (that the driver was just unlucky enough to have 2 chance encounters), but our suspicions about the driver should certainly be raised, and other evidence checked to see whether the driver is really incompetent to be driving a truck.
Late-breaking news: It seems that Gabriel Vera was involved in 3 fatal accidents, not just two, so there is no question in my mind that he isnít just an unlucky driver, but should never be allowed to drive again."
Posted by tom turner, a resident of the Portola Valley: other neighborhood, on Dec 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm
This is a very congested interchange. Cars going west on Alpine behind a slow vehicle will get in lane as going toward Portola Valley and get ahead of slow vehicle and turn onto 280 entry going south. In some cases vehicle in lane going to 280 south will go straight to Portola Valley. You have people from 280 north going east and west. Add to this bicycles goin east and west on Alpine along with people from Portola Valley going north on 280. It would only take a few hours for the state to watch what goes on at this intersection to see the problems.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Dec 24, 2010 at 7:14 am
Need to Know -
Thank you for your thoughtful, well reasoned post. Intuition tells us that for a single driver, even one who drives many miles each day for his living, to experience three fatal accidents in such a short period of time is both remarkable and troubling. It is nice to know that our intuition is confirmed by statistical significance.
Perhaps when this driver claims a fourth victim, we will look more deeply into his prior accidents and find he was not as innocent as first appeared.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Dec 24, 2010 at 7:37 am
The reports that I have read indicate that only one of this driver's first two accidents was with a bicycle. The other accident involved a motorist crossing the divide and hitting him head on - hardly his fault. If that is the case then Need to Know's conclusion "It seems that Gabriel Vera was involved in 3 fatal accidents, not just two, so there is no question in my mind that he isnít just an unlucky driver, but should never be allowed to drive again."is not consistent with his statistical analysis.
Posted by Big Picture, a resident of another community, on Dec 24, 2010 at 8:45 am
There are two considerations, in my opinion:
1. Did the driver violate criminal law? Apparently, the answer is no or its not provable beyond a reasonable doubt.
2. Did the driver take reasonable steps to avoid the collision? This question is apparently going to get hashed out in civil court.
Here's the bigger picture:
We all know there are times when we can do things to avoid POTENTIAL collisions. You can move away from trucks which can not see you. You can move over a lane on the freeway when a car is parked on the side. You could follow behind a bike instead of passing it, even though it's slow. You might sometimes drive at safe speeds, not necessarily the speed limit (ie. 5-10 mph around a group of kids playing on the street, instead of 25 mph). You should wait a few seconds after the light turns green in case someone blows the red light.
In broad strokes, none of the above need be done to comply with the law. But, if you drive responsibly, you try to AVOID accidents. I think people are honing in on the circumstantial evidence the driver of this truck does not go out of his way to AVOID collisions.
Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community, on Dec 24, 2010 at 11:15 am
It's hard to know if trucking laws should change to prevent more horrible accidents like this, or cycling laws, or both. I truly hope the truck driver retires from that career & gets retrained. Would YOU want to be driving a big rig after that record, even if you were not at fault in any of the incidents? I surely wouldn't. His record also makes me wonder about the routes he drove - the overall accident rate w/truckers & any other type of vehicle.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm
Big picture, here is another picture:
Mrs. Ward took a pleasure ride in a place that any experienced biker knows to be a dangerous one- trucks can't see bikers and even cars can't see bikers and there is that weird middle lane for bikers, which they reach after they cross the right lane.
We will never know exactly what happened in this accident. But to be prepare to affirm that this accident is the fault of the truck driver non withstanding the CHP conclusions and forensics which point to the biker , suggests that the posters are not only biased but also unrealistic as to what can happen on the highway. . Mrs Ward like all of us was human and therefore could have made a mistake. Couldn't she?
Posted by Need to Know, a resident of the Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres neighborhood, on Dec 28, 2010 at 2:55 am
@ Peter Carpenter:
Hi Mr. Carpenter.
You are correct that one of the three fatalities Mr. Vera was involved in was with a motor vehicle and not a bicycle, but I do want to point out that the conclusion you referred to was the author's conclusion and part of the article I quoted, not a conclusion drawn by me.
I apologize that my post was not formatted more clearly to set off the author's entire quote, and I agree that the author's conclusion is not consistent with the statistical analysis.
That said, it certainly is remarkable that one individual driving one specific truck has been involved in three fatalities regardless of the circumstances. I don't know a single individual that has been involved in three collisions of any kind involving the same vehicle let alone a collision involving a fatality.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Dec 28, 2010 at 6:54 am
Need to know - thank you for your clarification.
You state:"That said, it certainly is remarkable that one individual driving one specific truck has been involved in three fatalities regardless of the circumstances. I don't know a single individual that has been involved in three collisions of any kind involving the same vehicle let alone a collision involving a fatality."
While your experience is interesting the fact remains that correlation is not causation. If a bank teller is robbed three times should the teller be banned for life from being a bank teller?
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Dec 28, 2010 at 9:51 pm
To those that think the odds that this driver could be in three fatal accidents and not be at fault, I direct you to this article about Roy Sullivan, a man that was struck seven times (yes SEVEN) by lighting. The odds are way beyond those in this case. It is possible for someone to be involved in three fatal accidents and not be at fault and not be a bad driver, just unlucky.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2010 at 8:40 am
This driver has been found not at fault in all three of these accidents. What about that makes you think he is a bad driver? In the first another driver crossed the center line and hit him head on. His fault? No. In the second there was footage from a security camera showing the cyclist was at fault. Driver's fault? No. In this case there are no witnesses, so the CHP analyzed the physical evidence and concluded the driver was not at fault. The cyclist ran into the side of his truck.
If I was the driver I would find something else to do. Not because I'm a bad driver, but I would not want to be involved in another fatal accident and reducing the miles I drive would help.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 29, 2010 at 12:18 pm
The model that "need to know" article mentions seems a little short on science.
Seems to make a correlation where none exists. It is naive statistics of a pedestrian variety it seems to me. In order to have some meaningful stats bikers and vehicles need to be using the same roads at the same time on regular traffic patterns. In particular, how many accidents have there been on that stretch of the road? And how many near misses? How many near misses did Mrs. Ward experienced? You see, statistics involve some complex mathematical concepts, not a simplistic jumping to conclusions. And even if something has a low probability doesn't mean at all that it didn't happen.
In particular explain to me how can he possibly be at fault in the first accident when a car crossing the center divider crashed against him?
Suburban drivers that think that they don't know anybody with three accidents are naive, perhaps because suburban experience is so devoided of serious driving challenges when you compare with rural roads (as that stretch of Alpine) or city driving.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2010 at 4:47 pm
pedestrian in traffic stated "Suburban drivers that think that they don't know anybody with three accidents are naive..." Nice misdirection, but that's not the issue.
This isn't accidents, it's FATAL accidents. So to your point, sorry, but I don't know a single person who has been involved in THREE SEPARATE AND FATAL ACCIDENTS E - V - E - R... let alone during a single ten year period. In fact, I couldn't even find mention of one on a google search. It must be pretty rare.
And even more to your point, this driver's three fatal accidents did not occur at one location so it makes little sense to limit your analysis to this one stretch of highway as you proposed.
Posted by Jerry Leugers, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm
I was hit by a van some years ago on westbound Page Mill Rd under I-280 before a bike lane was installed. From the limited information that I have read in this case, the scenario appears to be very similar. Initially, the CHP investigation concluded that I had intentionally hit the car with my arm. I was incredulous that the officers completely disregarded my statement and then concocted a theory that had no basis in fact. I wrote a letter to the Almanac and subsequently met with the officers and they changed the cause to unknown.
Having been involved in a lengthy fatal aircraft investigation while I was on active duty in the US Navy, I found their investigative procedures to be totally unprofessional. They felt a need to lay blame on an individual despite the lack of evidence. It may be a lack of understanding on the part of the CHP what it is like to ride a bicycle on busy streets or a systemic bias in the CHP against bicyclists.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 29, 2010 at 7:29 pm
can you explain why you think that the accident in which the truck driver was a victim and that killed the woman crashing against him head on, after crossing the center divider should even be mentioned as if it wasn't just a piece of bad luck by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been you despite all your assertions.? To mention this accident as "proof" of the truck driver driving skills and is really dishonest, not just biased. How is this his fault? Try to be fair and honest.
But yes, having lived in a very large city in which fatalities (specially with buses) and for that matter bike fatalities are numerous and the driving challenging the CHP report sounds very believable to me. I was even a witness in the case of a pedestrian that hit a car, not the other way round. She went under the car (a cab) after she turned slightly to adjust her umbrella and hit the cab towards the back wheel. She was very seriously hurt, wasn't able to sue and the cab driver rendered blameless. And yes, there are people who have had numerous accidents and none of it their fault. Specially those who drive for a living that encounter less potent road users . The insurance institute statistics are quite good and so are the AAA.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2010 at 7:56 pm
pedestrian said "...And yes, there are people who have had numerous accidents and none of it their fault. Specially those who drive for a living that encounter less potent road users . The insurance institute statistics are quite good and so are the AAA."
Sorry, but I don't consider a finding that a driver was not charged with responsibility for an accident to mean that they were not at fault. That's like saying a defendant who is found not guilty was innocent. Sometimes - as in this case with no witnesses - there is simply insufficient evidence to make a determination.
But I do have a question for you. What are the statistics (probabilities) for a single driver to experience three FATAL accidents - regardless of fault - in a ten year period?
I think statistics would suggest this is more than a case of bad luck.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2010 at 8:17 pm
Another useful perspective on this accident is provided in this study involving truck-car crashes. Just think of how much more vulnerable bicycles are than cars.
Identifying Unsafe Driver Actions
that Lead to Fatal Car-Truck Crashes
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
"In collisions between passenger vehicles (which
include various types of vehicles; hereafter, ďcarsĒ) and large trucks, the structural properties and greater mass of large trucks put the occupants of the cars at a disadvantageó98% of the deaths in fatal two-vehicle crashes involving a car and a large truck were among occupants of the car (FMCSA 2001).
"Many crashes between cars and large trucks occur because a maneuver performed by one of the vehicles is unanticipated by the other, leaving insufficient time to avoid the crash. In some cases, a maneuver performed by a car near a large truck may carry a higher crash risk than the same maneuver performed near another car. Similarly, a large truck may perform a maneuver that carries
low risk of a crash near another truck in the traffic stream, but a higher risk when performed near a smaller vehicle. One reason why some car drivers perform unsafe maneuvers near large trucks may be that they simply do not know the risks associated with driving near trucks."
Posted by Menlo Votger, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2010 at 9:50 pm
Not Guilty is Not Guilty. You can't condemn this driver as "unsafe" unless you have some evidence to support your contention. Our system is "innocect until proven guilty." This driver has been found "not guilty" in all cases. Frankly, you can't even include the accident in which he was struck head on, as no one can argue that there was any way in which he caused the accident. Stuff happens.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 30, 2010 at 4:49 am
Frankly POGO, I cannot reason with you. If a car crosses the center divider , gets on your lane wrong way and crashed against you killing the driver of the car how is it that you say "Sorry, but I don't consider a finding that a driver was not charged with responsibility for an accident to mean that they were not at fault"???????????????? This would be the same as saying that a person who was the victim of an armed hold-up and robbed was "involved" in a robbery and therefore that should be counted against the victim as one "involved" in a crime.
For myself I like being rational and appreciate only the arguments of those who are.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Dec 30, 2010 at 8:14 am
We're not always logical and we're not always rational. I suspect some of you (Menlo Voter, perhaps?) who are so willing to accept the findings of the CHP officer's investigation won't so easily accept the findings of other investigators (ie, Atherton). I wouldn't call you irrational, just human.
Yes, I understand and even accept the findings of the CHP investigator, although I would point out that there was no verdict of "not guilty" as some suggest... only a determination that Mr. Vera was not at fault with the explicit admission that there was insufficient evidence to draw other conclusions. While I accept that finding, I admit to serious doubts.
Just as plausible as Ms. Ward inexplicably steering her bicycle into the path of a huge truck passing on her right - and in my humble opinion a far more likely scenario - perhaps Mr. Vera swung his vehicle to his left as he lined up his rig to make that long arcing right turn onto the 280 ramp. We've all seen drivers do that - especially in trucks - who swing out very wide as they make a turn. I think that is far more plausible than concluding that Ms. Ward turned accidentally or intentionally into the wheels of a huge truck. Unfortunately, bicycles don't leave skid marks like vehicles so it would be difficult - as the CHP investigator confessed - to determine the exact spot where Ms. Ward's bike came into contact with Mr. Vera's truck. Was the point of contact in the bike lane (implicating the truck) or in the truck's lane (implicating the bicyclist)? You have your beliefs, I have mine.
As far as Mr. Vera's 2003 head on accident, the record has been purged so there isn't any evidence. Was Mr. Vera at fault? The record says no and I accept that. Rational. But I also know that he may have been perilously close to the centerline himself - perhaps even over it. Maybe he was inattentive and could have done something to avoid the crash. I don't know and neither does anyone else.
As for Mr. Vera's 2007 accident, there is photographic proof that Mr. Vera was not at fault, and I accept that also.
I accept all three determinations. Rational.
But we have all heard about the wife who had a series of husbands who died of "natural causes" until some skeptical coroner decided to dig up the bodies and discovered they were all poisoned. And the conclusion of the initial investigator changed. That stuff does happen, especially after a series of "coincidences."
No one has disputed that the chances of a single driver being involved in three separate fatal accidents in less than ten years is incredibly small. So, with respect to this latest accident, I wouldn't convict Mr. Vera based on this remote probability alone. But I am certainly free to suspect that Mr. Vera shares more blame in this unfortunate event than appears. I'm unwilling to dismiss him as blameless.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Dec 30, 2010 at 8:26 am
the only investigation I have questions about are the latest. As you state, there is very little information for the CHP to make a determination of fault. I also know how an accident investigation is conducted and how the police are required to make some determination as to the primary collision factor if at all possible. Lacking any other evidence other than signs of the cyclist impacting the side of the truck, they likely called that out as the "primary collison factor." Could there be related causes? Possibly, but unless a witness comes forward with more information we'll never know.
In my opinion this driver really only has one questionable fatal accident here. Yes, the odds of it happening to the same person three times in ten years are small, but like the man struck by lightning seven times, small odds don't mean it's not possible.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 30, 2010 at 9:37 am
Well, Vera has had only two accidents, not three, both with cyclists.
Contrary to what POGO says the first accident was widely reported in the media, can still be read about and Vera was a victim, not in any way to blame. Now, that POGO lost that one, he invents -.... I also know that he may have been perilously close to the centerline himself - perhaps even over it. Maybe he was inattentive and could have done something to avoid the crash. I don't know and neither does anyone else...
Funny how even in the circumstances of the first accident you are not willing to render him blameless and how a crash against him on his lane is disputed. He was on his lane.He was were he should have been. The car driver wasn't. What bad will and bias you have towards this driver POGO. Not nice at all. Crashes, specially sudden crashes come as instantaneous,
there is nothing to do and you can't even assess what is happening at the time of the crash.
Was Mrs. Ward put herself too close to the truck whose driver can't see her? Maybe she was inattentive momentarily and could have done something to avoid the crash. She was only human. I don't know neither does anyone else. Perhaps she placed her body and not her wheel towards the truck, we don't know. But in a bike truck situation the biker looses and it's not a good idea to place oneself where that can happen easily despite one's best efforts. That's why I don't go to Wunderlich on sundays anymore.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Dec 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm
As I said immediately above: "I wouldn't convict Mr. Vera based on this remote probability alone. But I am certainly free to suspect that Mr. Vera shares more blame in this unfortunate event than appears. I'm unwilling to dismiss him as blameless."
I'm not sure what more I can add other than we'll see if a court agrees with the findings of the CHP investigation or the investigation performed by the victim's family about fault.
Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community, on Dec 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm
POGO, please. It's evident that i was referring to the 2 bicycle accidents. Many people specially those driving in high traffic areas have had a lot of accidents, many of them fender benders of no personal consequence. It's neither relevant nor does it shed any light on this accident. You are too keen on seeing that Vera is made responsible for this accident, in fact shifting from one argument to another. Could Mrs. Ward have been also to blame partially or totally for the accident? I don't think that's something you contemplated.
I am more keen to see if a bike path can be added to the road so that pleasure bikers do not risk life and limb in encounters with heavier vehicles, though I also would like to find a little wisdom and rule following from bikers I expect that there will be a financial settlement whether or not Vera is too blame. I do not expect to see this matter of who is responsible to be adjudicated by the courts.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Dec 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm
As the AAA study above notes ""Many crashes between cars and large trucks occur because a maneuver performed by one of the vehicles is unanticipated by the other, leaving insufficient time to avoid the crash. In some cases, a maneuver performed by a car near a large truck may carry a higher crash risk than the same maneuver performed near another car. Similarly, a large truck may perform a maneuver that carries low risk of a crash near another truck in the traffic stream, but a higher risk when performed near a smaller vehicle. One reason why some car drivers perform unsafe maneuvers near large trucks may be that they simply do not know the risks associated with driving near trucks."
The situation is much worse for trucks and bicycles. Regardless of who has the rights to the road bicyclists need to accept that they are at greater risk and, in many case, there is nothing the truck driver can do to protect them when the bicyclist cannot see the truck driver's eyes.